Basic Search Tips

Here’s a quick guide to some of the more useful search techniques used in many of our medical databases. You can achieve better searches and more useful results by using the basic search tips shown below.

Keyword and phrase search

Identify the main concepts and keywords of your review topic. Keywords are words and phrases which best describe your topic. When searching for phrases, place your search terms in inverted commas – for example, “public health”.

Consider synonyms for your keywords. Use the MeSH on demand tool as your first search tool to identity key concepts for your research question. 

Using Connectors – Boolean Operators 

Using the ‘AND’, ‘OR’, ‘NOT search application terms

AND (All keywords need to appear in the search engines)


Example: Virus AND Infectious Disease

NOT (Excludes the second keyword)


Example: Virus NOT Infectious Disease


OR (Includes any of the search phrase)


Example: Virus OR Infectious Disease

Here’s a video on how to perform a Boolean search using PubMed

Source: [NYUBobstHealth]. (2013, June 7). Using Boolean Logic to Conduct a Literature Search in Pubmed: Falls AND Exercise in the Aged. [Video File]. Retrieved from

You can also refer to the PubMed tutorial – Introduction to Boolean Logic


Truncation works from the root of a word. Retrieves all the different ways a keyword might appear in the database.

(It doesn’t work in Google Scholar)

  • Commonly used symbol: *
    • Example 1: child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
    • Example 2: genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
    • Example 3: sul*ur = sulfar, sulphar

Try this example: Develop* =


Substitute a symbol for one letter of a word

  • Wom?n = ‘woman OR women’
  • injection? = ‘injection OR injections’
  • p?ediatric = ‘pediatric OR paediatrics’

Wildcard and truncation symbols vary from database to database. Check the database help section to identify the correct wildcard and truncation symbols. Example: EBSCO Help for Truncation and Wildcard

You can combine these elements to create a search strategy.

When using databases there is a variety of search features such as:

  • limiting options,
  • thesaurus buttons and
  • field search

You can also use these features to enhance your search results. To find out what specific features a database offers, refer to their search help or tips.

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